Better Call a Pall Bearer – Nobody

The leitmotif of middle-aged actors becoming action film stars is always a fascinating one, because you can never quite tell which ones will work and which ones won’t. Yeah, there are fairly safe guesses like Liam Neeson, who was always a badass, and Keanu Reeves, who had action chops as part of his repertoire beforehand. But I have to tell you, there is no amount of money I would ever have bet that Bob Odenkirk would be able to pull it off. Sure, he’s a long way from his Mr. Show days, and he’s had his share of gritty drama work like Breaking Bad and its spinoff, but for straight up ass-kickery? Would never have imagined it.

And yet somehow, Nobody finds a way to work, mostly because it leans into its cheesy, almost gratuitous level of comic violence in service of a fairly by-the-numbers action/crime plot. Odenkirk doesn’t so much convince you that he can pull off amazing fight choreography, though he does all right in the one scene where hand-to-hand combat is emphasized, but the ingenuity and sheer creativity of some of his traps to get the drop on the baddies is enough to win you over.

I’m normally highly skeptical of any film advertised during a UFC fight card, but I have to admit that despite a slow start, I was eventually drawn in to Nobody, and by the end I was outright enjoying myself. You have to go through some tired tropes in the first act to get to the good stuff, but the payoff is worth the wait.

Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, which is in no way a real name that a human being actually has. Honest to God, the first time I laughed in this film was seeing that nameplate on his office door. It’s such an absurdly made up name that I have to imagine it was created only to further establish the character as emasculated. Anyway, Hutch is in a rut, as illustrated by a montage of his day-to-day life, including giant fonts across the screen for each day of the week. That font is only used one other time, to name the film’s villain, Yulian, a Russian mobster played by Aleksei Serebryakov, so I don’t quite see the point, unless the filmmakers are trying to retroactively make us see a mundane suburban life as an existential threat. Hutch has a wife (Connie Nielsen) and two kids (Gage Munroe and Paisley Cadorath), he works at a metal shop with his father-in-law (Michael Ironside), and he just can’t seem to catch the garbage truck on Tuesday mornings. Never mind that he could always put the can on the curb on Monday night, clearly his life just sucks.

Things get even worse when a pair of thieves break into his house and rob him at gunpoint. Hutch’s son, Blake manages to tackle one of the burglars and Hutch sneaks up on the other with a golf club. Rather than strike, he lets them go, leading to a string of insults and backhanded comments from friends, family, coworkers, and even the fucking police about how he wasn’t “man” enough, and that they totally would have beaten the intruders within an inch of their lives if it had been them.

I think the filmmakers were attempting for this to be some sort of ironic joke, but it just comes off as mean-spirited toxic masculinity (no wonder Dana White wanted to advertise it during his events). If someone comes into your house with a gun and demands your cash, you’re supposed to de-escalate the situation, not make it worse and invite potentially lethal violence. Instead, Hutch is impotent for doing the right thing, to the point where several in the audience (including one musclehead who tried to start a fight with the concessions cashier in the lobby over having to wear a mask) were literally calling Hutch a giant pussy from the other side of the screen.

As it turns out, however, Hutch isn’t a wuss/rational human being. He’s a semi-retired assassin (or “auditor” as they say) for the government, and he spared the robbers because he noticed their gun wasn’t loaded. Upon tracking them down to retrieve his watch (along with his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet, leading to one of the funniest testosterone-fueled line readings ever), he learns that they’re just a poor, desperate couple with a baby on life support, and he leaves them be.

His rage boner left with blue balled fists, Hutch decides to take his aggression out on some drunk idiots who come on to his bus on the way home and start harassing people. After a lengthy bit of fisticuffs (pretty good, despite heavy editing) he goes home satisfied and resolved to improve his marriage. Meanwhile, one of the imbeciles he gave what for to turns out to be the fuck-up younger brother of drug lord Yulian (though honestly, you’d sooner think Yulian was his grandfather, given the age difference), and now Yulian is coming for Hutch and his family.

All of this is standard revenge action fare, and honestly at times feels like Death Wish with a slightly safer setup. But it’s everything that happens after this point that makes the film worth watching. Hutch sends his loved ones away and sets about the task of taking Yulian and his goons down. He’s resourceful, prepared, and downright funny in his figurative and literal executions. There’s a great running gag about how he’ll fatally wound someone, then try to explain why he’s so skilled in what he does, but the fodder always dies before he can finish his story.

For the final act, he enlists the help of his nursing home-bound father (Christopher Lloyd) and adopted brother (RZA) to lure the gang to his place of business and the R-rated Home Alone-style death trap that awaits them. It’s completely nonsensical how he could have set all this up, and how he’s somehow able to fill these two relations in on how everything should work without getting them killed, but at this point, you’re firmly along for the ride, and some of the kills are just spectacular. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say, if Milton from Office Space had Hutch’s staplers, he’d be very happy.

There’s a bit of good subversion throughout the film, like the fact that Hutch never has to get in shape to transform into a badass killer. As part of his routine he’s shown working out constantly. He’s in great shape for a man his age, and doesn’t need a training montage. The film establishes that he’s always been lethal, but that he voluntarily suppressed his killer instincts until the threat came to him. Still, I wish they would have gone a bit further. Like I said earlier, it’s a good thing that he didn’t straight up murder the couple who broke into his house. This is a narrative we need to disabuse ourselves of in media. As Jim Jefferies famously put it, most people who break into your house just want your fucking TV. There is absolutely no need to bring firearms or other forms of deadly violence into the picture. How many enemies do you have if you think people are constantly coming to murder your family? But Hutch didn’t spare them because the situation called for peace. He spared them because he had keen vision (in the dark, mind you) to see that they weren’t really a threat, something no one in the audience could have seen, so it has to be a reveal that he was actually smarter than the room later on, instead of showing that he made the actual prudent move.

You can still show that he’s a badass without muddying the waters like that. Ask yourself, wouldn’t it have been cooler if he said, in the moment, that he knew the gun wasn’t loaded, and scared them off? Maybe take his watch back right then and there, thus assuring his son that he wasn’t too frightened and “cowardly” to act? Staring down a gun, knowing you have the upper hand, and calling their bluff would have been super cool, and it still accomplishes the goal of establishing his observational skills and making you think twice about his unassuming nature. But no, we still have to go with the “You no smash? You flapping vagina!” narrative.

Still though, in both the good and bad scenes, Odenkirk sells the moment, and his performance is more than effective. And again, knowing his comedy roots, I would never have suspected him capable of such a turn. So of course, he makes you a believer as only he can, by making his kills righteous and hilarious. I mean, back-to-back with Christopher Lloyd, both holding shotguns? I don’t know how you don’t smile.

Grade: B-

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who should be the next middle aged action star? Would a Macaulay Culkin cameo have raised the film’s grade by at least a full letter? (yes, yes it would have) Let me know!

2 thoughts on “Better Call a Pall Bearer – Nobody

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